A new UNMC study shows more drugged drivers are now testing positive for prescription drugs, marijuana, and are more likely to be older than 50.
The study was released Monday. It takes an in-depth look at deadly accidents where the driver tested positive for drugs.
“While we’ve seen a decrease over the years in motor vehicle fatalities involving people under the influence, the nature of those crashes is changing,” said study author Fernando Wilson, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The study looked at crashes between 1993 and 2010.
Research found the percentage of drugged drivers with three or more drugs in their system nearly doubled from 1993 to 2010 - from 11.5 percent to 21.5 percent.
“In 1993, about 1 in 8 drivers were using multiple drugs concurrently. By 2010, it was closer to 1 in 5,” Dr. Wilson says. “Beyond that, we’re also seeing more and more people using drugs and alcohol together."
The study found about 70% of drivers who tested positive for cocaine, had also been drinking. About 55% of drivers who tested positive for marijuana had alcohol in their system.
Researchers also uncovered trends in drug use associated with age: Almost 60 percent of marijuana-only users were younger than 30 years old, and 39 percent of prescription users were 50 or older.
The study was funded by the Public Health Law Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The research is meant to help investigate the relationship between state laws and the consumption of alcohol and other drugs on fatal car crashes.
Eighteen states currently have “per se,” or zero tolerance, laws for drugged drivers. Recent studies have shown, however, that these laws may not have been effective in decreasing traffic deaths.
To address these trends the authors suggest that policy-makers try to prevent drug use before anyone takes the wheel.
Suggestions include "curbing prescription drug use by drivers through counseling by medical professionals, and increasing affordable access to mass transit".